Wild Bill Davison Day

January 5, 1906 – November 14, 1989

A tribute to the colorful cornetist

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Cornetist William “Wild Bill” Davison was born on January 5, 1906 in Defiance, Ohio.

Davison began playing professionally on banjo, mandolin, guitar and mellophone before switching to cornet early on; he never had a music lesson.

He quit high school after one year to play banjo with a dance band but by the mid-1920s was exclusively a cornetist, gaining experience playing with the Ohio Lucky Seven, James Jackson, Roland Potter’s Peerless Players, the Chubb-Steinberg Orchestra, the Seattle Harmony Kings (1927) and Benny Meroff, recording with Chubb-Steinberg and Meroff.

Davison worked in Chicago for several years and in 1931 formed a big band with clarinetist Frankie Teschemacher but a car accident (Davison’s car was blind sighted by a cab) resulted in Teschemacher’s death and the cornetist being unfairly blamed by other musicians; he went into exile in Milwaukee for the rest of the 30’s.

During that period, Davison developed his hard-charging and exciting style and, when he moved to New York in 1941, his playing was fully formed.

In 1942 he led his own band regularly at Nick’s, participated in a recreation of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, became associated with Eddie Condon’s all-star groups, and in 1943 recorded some classic dixieland sides for Commodore (including the definitive version of “That’s A Plenty”).

After serving in the Army during part of 1943-45, Wild Bill became a regular member of Eddie Condon’s gang during 1945-57, playing the Dixieland standards that he loved and becoming famous in the jazz world; his mixture of growls, screams and roars along with his powerful melodic lead made him a popular attraction and his heavy drinking and antics offstage made him a legendary figure.

Davison was remarkably consistent throughout his career, whether recording with Sidney Bechet, being featured on two best-selling albums with strings, leading his own freewheeling groups or being featured with pickup bands; during 1965-75 he appeared with over 100 bands, spending a lot of time in Europe, staying active until shortly before his death in 1989 at the age of 83.

Here is Wild Bill Davison, who could make any other Dixieland or swing trumpeter/cornetist sound bland in comparison, romping through “Sunday” with pianist Art Hodes, bassist Rail Wilson and drummer Don DeMichael in the late 1960s.

-Scott Yanow


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